Archives for June 2011

Filmmakers and the Moral Obligation

First I would like to thank the folks at Filmplicity and Dirty With Class for coming up with this blog-a-thon. The topic is definitely a tricky one and can lead down many paths, For my part I have decided to look at this question in several parts.

Let me just say that this is a very hard and open question to answer. What I have attempted to do in this post it cobble together stuff I have had conversations about as well as disparate thoughts I have had on the subject over my many years of watching movies.

 

First let’s start by defining morality.

 

Click on image to read the definition.

Part I: Defining Morality

As I do with any intellectual exercise, I start to dig to determine the rules of engagement. In this case, I know what moral/morality means in the broadest of sense of the word. But for our purposes in this piece, let us use a standard, dictionary definition as the basis of the discussion (see inset).

 

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Tuesday’s Overlooked Films: Lifeboat and Foreign Correspondent

To modern cinemagoers, when they think of Alfred Hitchcock, assuredly titles such as Rear Window, Vertigo, Psycho or The Birds come to mind.

Still for many Hitchcock devotees, the cut goes a little deeper and when back-cataloging his work, many are surprised to find that the majority of his films made when he first came to Hollywood were more derivative character-based dramas which may or may not contain elements of thrill and suspense. Also let us not forget the interspersed moments of light comedic relief often found in many of his productions.

This week’s installment of my overlooked films features a double-bill from this era (the 1940’s) in Mr. Hitchcock’s career, focusing on titles you may not have heard oft: Foreign Corresponent and Lifeboat. I chose to list these films jointly because they were produced around the same time and dealt with similar theme – World War II. World War II (and the subsequent Cold War) seemed to provide Hitchcock with ample material to drive his plots along now and in years to come.

Foreign Correspondent (1940)

It should be noted that this film was made prior to America’s entry into The War. The plot centers around a foreign correspondent working in Europe and being propelled into a global conspiracy. It is a taut, action-packed film that keeps you engaged until the very end. My favorite scenes: one involving Edmund Gwenn (I will say no more except to say, ‘NOT Saint Nick!’) and an amazing airplane crash sequence that was undoubtedly revolutionary for its time and still resonates with me.


Lifeboat (1944)

Four years later, Hitchcock made Lifeboat. This film strikes an even-keeled balance between ensemble piece, character drama and tense, nail-biting suspense. What is even more fascinating about this movie is it setting – it all takes place in and around a lifeboat floating in the Atlantic Ocean, in the aftermath of a German U-Boat attack. Standout performances include William Bendix, Walter Slezak and the one and only Tallulah Bankhead.

Before Sunrise/Sunset Double Feature

 

What I found interesting about the Before Sunrise/set was the different tracks each film took – first part sweetly romantic the second part a bit more cynical. In spite of this each installment of the Richard Linklater-helmed films was markedly understated in its delivery. It would not have worked any other way.

In “Before Sunrise” we are introduced to two characters who are embarking on a journey – both literally and figuratively. Through their esoteric philosophical debates on this journey, I was left with the sense that these are two people trying to find there place in the world and understand what it all means. Along the way they find each other and in each other find what they feel like are kindred souls. At the conclusion of “Before Sunrise,” we are left with some ambiguity about their respective futures, and whether they be together or apart.

Fast-forward nearly a decade later and in “Before Sunset” the bloom has definitely gone off the rose and what we encounter are two people very much involved in the world having to deal with what I think are typical dilemmas that accompany being thirty-somethings (at least I think so). The questions left at the conclusion of “Before Sunrise” are eventually answered and new questions are raised (What if her grandmother did not die? And more immediately pressing, will he make his train?).

At times (especially in “Before Sunrise”) I felt disconnected from some of the “meaning of life” dialogue, but not so much as to alienate me from the films. I think I was too caught up in the romance and chemistry of the two leads.

To ask me which one of the movies I prefer is very hard question for me to answer. I definitely related to some of the weighty, “angsty” issues dealt with in “Before Sunrise,” but I have to admit that I really loved the relaxed nature and brisk movement of “Before Sunset.” At times I did not feel like I was watching a film at all but rather was an invisible, silent third member of a conversation between two people.

Both films share the thread of the wonder we encounter as we pass through life, the people we meet and what it all means in the end.

National Portrait Gallery Exhibition

If you happen to be in London in the near future, may I recommend you check out The National Gallery; the gallery’s exhibit,  Glamour of the Gods:Hollywood Portraits (http://www.npg.org.uk/glamour/) is running from 7 July – 23 October and will feature 70 photographs from stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age (1920-1960).

The exhibit features photographs from the John Kobal Foundation archive and produced in association with the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

 

 

 

Tuesday’s Overlooked Film: Strange Days

 

Strange Days is quite possibly one of my favorite movies of the mid-late 1990s. This is easily one of my favorite futuristic/sci-fi films.

Based on a story by James Cameron, the central premise revolves involves squid discs – a contraband technology that allow people to live the lives of others or to relive memories from their own lives. This technology is a main device through which the plot unwinds.

On an emotional level we see our protagonists deal with their pasts, pasts that obviously are affecting them in the here and now, as the city of Los angeles is on the precipice of a new millennium. This is also played against the backdrop of There are a  political subtext (involving police brutality/murder).

Directed by the awesome, Academy-Award Winning Kathryn Bigelow this is sort of a huge deal – an action-packed sci-fi motion picture directed by a woman.

That can account for the reason that the women characters, particularly the role of Juliette Lewis is troubled and far from perfect – she is a well-rounded person.

Granted the the climatic scene featuring Angela Bassett and the police officers is a bit OTT for some, it is still a well executed story.

And I have not even mentioned Ralph Fiennes yet – he definitely has the schlubby down on his luck (and life) persona captured. I can even forgive his slightly dodgy American accent.

My Friends Have Told Me to See It ….

And now I finally have …

Bring on Before Sunset ….

Tuesday’s Overlooked Film: A Hatful of Rain

This week’s selection is the 1957 film A Hatful of Rain. The film stars Eva Marie Saint, Don Murray, Anthony Franciosa, and Lloyd Nolan. The film is based on the stageplay of the same name and was written by Michael V. Gazzo. He also adapted the play for the screen with an assist from Alfred Hayes and (then blacklisted Carl Foreman); Foreman was not to receive screen credit from the Writer’s Guild of America until 1998, 14 years after his death (source: Wikipedia).

The film was directed by Fred Zinnemann (From Here to Eternity, High Noon) with a musical score by frequent Hitchcock collaborator, Bernard Herrmann.

 

Why I Like This Film

It is part of that set of films in my estimation, that were starting to crop up in the late 1950’s (and into the 60’s) that attempted to take realistic look at issues plaguing contemporary society. In this case, the issue of drug addiction was the subject. Hatful of Rain is a poignant and heartbreaking account of a man, played by Don Murray, riddled with a heroin addiction he acquired while in a military hospital (he is a Korean War veteran).

His behavior is not known to his pregnant wife (Saint) or his recently-arrived father (Nolan) who, along with his brother (Franciosa – who knows what ails his brother), all live in the same cramped apartment.

What has touched me over the years about this story is not only the central theme of the battle the lead character in undergoing but also the toll it takes on those around him.


Two other items of interest:

1) A bit of trivia: Anthony Franciosa received an Academy Award nomination for his performance.

2) Unfortunately, this title is not available for purchase but it is definitely worth scouting on TCM or any other specialty movie channel.

Favorite 15 Films Set in London

What can I say I like numbers that round off to 5’s and 10’s and I LOVE London. So in “honor” of my forthcoming trip to the British capital, I have put together 15 of my favorite films set in London. Please note I am not saying these are the BEST films set in London; they just happen to be my favorite ones.

  1. Eastern Promises
  2. Sherlock Holmes
  3. Wimbledon
  4. Love Actually
  5. About a Boy
  6. Midnight Lace
  7. The Bank Job
  8. Bend it Like Beckham
  9. Bridget Jones’s Diary
  10. Children of Men
  11. V for Vendetta
  12. Gaslight
  13. Notting Hill
  14. Dial M for Murder
  15. (on the fence) From Hell – mainly because while I do not consider myself a huge horror fan however, I am fascinated with the “Jack the Ripper” story and this movie satisfies that interest more so than any other narrative film that I have seen out there.

For a list of more films set in and around London, check out the Wikipedia entry.

What are some of yours?

 

Random Movie Questionnaire (37 Questions)

This is getting kind of fun. I love answering movie questions because it really gets people to know who I am as a blogger and my film sensibilities.

This questionnaire in particular (via in so many words …) is a really great one in so much as it is a nice mixture of old and new.

1) Depending on your mood, your favorite or least-loved movie cliche.

As much of a romantic as I am when it comes to my movies I do have a love/hate relationship with the “happily ever after” cliche. It is on one hand satisfying and the other can be ridiculously unrealistic and trite.

2) Regardless of whether you eventually caught up with it, which film classic have you lied about seeing in the past?

I don’t lie; if I haven’t seen it I tell you and wait to see your expression 🙂

3) Roland Young or Edward Everett Horton?

Gonna go with Uncle Willie (Roland Young) from The Philadelphia Story

4) Second favorite Frank Tashlin movie?

5) Clockwork Orange – yes or no?

No. Only because I have not seen it – I think I may have to read the book first though.

6) Best/Favorite use of gender dysphoria in a horror film?

Norman Bates in Psycho? Or is that a severe Oedipal Complex? (Leaning towards the latter).

7) Melanie Laurent or Blake Lively?

Melanie Laurent. Her IMDB filmography looks more interesting.

8 ) Best Movie of 2011 (so far…?)

At the time of this writing I would say Jane Eyre. May change when I see Midnight in Paris this weekend.

9) Favorite screen performer with a noticeable facial deformity.

Cannot think of one of the top of my head.

10) Lars Van Trier?

Given his latest antics I would say no. But at one time I thought I liked Breaking the Waves. A moment of madness, really.

11) Timothy Carey or Henry Silva?

Henry Silva

12) Low-profile writer who deserves more attention from critics and/or audiences.

See #21

13) Movie most recently viewed theatrically, DVD, Blue-ray or streaming.

X-Men First Class

14) Favorite film noir villain.

MALE: Harry Lime as portrayed by Orson Welles in The Third Man (could not help but love his villainy)

FEMALE: Ellen Berent as portrayed by Gene Tierney in Leave Her to Heaven (just down right evil).

15) Best thing about streaming movies.

Instant gratification!

16) Fay Spain or France Nuyen?

France Nuyen

17) Favorite Kirk Douglas film that isn’t SPARTACUS?

Detective Story – if haven’t seen this film – see it!

18) Favorite movie about cars.

Don’t have one. But my favorite car in a movie is the car Grace Kelly drove in To Catch a Thief


19) Audrey Totter or Marie Windsor?

Marie Windsor – Grand Dame of “film noir”

20) Existing Stephen King movie adaptation that could use a remake/re-boot or overhaul?

Too many to name; there are several lame adaptations needing an overhaul.

21) Low-profile director who deserves more attention from critics and/or audiences.

I will focus on audiences – critics are usually students of cinematic history and really appreciated Preston Sturges’ contribution to American cinema but not many contemporary audiences know who he is.

22) What actor that you previously enjoyed has become distracting or a self-parody?

Nicholas Cage – lost patience after Leaving Las Vegas

23) Best place in the world to see a movie?

At home in the dark with grandma’s blanket on the couch and copious amounts of chocolate.

24) Charles McGraw or Sterling Hayden?

Sterling Hayden. I have been fascinated by his life story away from the movies.

25) Second favorite Yasujiro Ozu film?

Have not seen any of his films.

26) Most memorable horror movie father figure?

Jack Torrance in The Shining

27) Name a non-action-oriented-movie that would be fun to see in Sensurround.

Mama Mia – Pierce Brosnan singing  in Sensurround – something to stay in for.

28) Chris Evans or Ryan Reynolds?

TOSS UP Edge going to Ryan Reynolds, but after seeing trailer for The Green Lantern I am not so sure.

29) Favorite relatively unknown supporting player, from either or both the classic or the modern era.

I will go with the classic era and pick Dame Mae Whitty; she was excellent in The Lady Vanishes and several other films of the 1930s and 1940s. I would have gone with Thelma Ritter but I think she had SOME notoriety (at least in my mind). Also throw in one for William Bendix.

30) Real-life movie location you most recently visited or saw.

Mount Vernon (NY) East Metro North Station – it is where they shot the train station scenes for Eternal Sunshine on the Spotless Mind

31) Second favorite Budd Boetticher movie.

Nope sorry.

32) Mara Corday or Julie Adams?

Edge to Julie Adams because she was in Creature from the Black Lagoon and it freaked me out when I was a kid.

33) Favorite Universal International western.

Not sure my favorite westerns were made by Universal International

34) Favorite actress of the Silent Era.

Mary Pickford – when I was young I remember seeing a documentary of her life. Don’t remember much about her films but it is pretty cool that  Pretty she was a co-founder of United Artists; granted it was alongside the likes of DW Girffith. That said, she is a founding member of many of the institutions of modern Hollywood.

35) Favorite Eugene Pallett performance.

Friar Tuck in The Adventures of Robin Hood (one of my favorite films)

36) What could Multiplex owners do right now to improve the theater viewing experience for movie goers? What could movie goers do?

Owners – bring back real matinee pricing (before 5 or 6PM) so I do not have to be at a movie theater BEFORE IT OPENS to catch a 10:45AM show just so I can pay six bucks.

Moviegoers – find a babysitter, throw your mobile phones in a bin outside the theater before entering, and realize that you are not in your living room watching a movie.

37) What’s the biggest ‘gimmick’ that’s drawn you out to see a movie?

Not sure if it is a gimmick but when following the screening, they have a Q&A session with the people that have worked on the film . Saw a screening of North by Northwest this way (Ernest Lehman and Eva Marie Saint). Also saw Andrea Arnold and Michael Fassbender (Fish Tank) and most recently Joel Wright (Hanna) because of the Q&A sessions.

Tuesday’s Overlooked Film: The Wings of the Dove

This week’s pick is a beautifully paced, emotional and in the end tragic film from 1997. Iain Softely’s screen adaptation of the Henry James novel, The Wings of the Dove wonderfully portrays the romance, passion and pathos that you would not otherwise expect in an Edwardian period costumed drama.

It is a story about the lengths one will go to get what they want most in life – love. That sounds like a noble enough pursuit; however as displayed in this film, the course never runs according to plan and often, the outcome is not what you expect or hope for. The film is also a clear statement on how social class, money and privilege as forces that often lead to drastic actions.

The Wings of the Dove features a wonderful cast which includes Helena Bonham Carter, Linus Roache, Charlotte Rampling, Alison Elliot and Michael Gambon.

Despite seemingly flying under the radar, the film did get recognized around awards season, including a Best Actress nod for Helena Bonham Carter. By far I feel that this was her finest moment in creating a character that on one hand you empathize with but on the other you despise her for her actions. Initially her motives may be noble and driven by a pure, unselfish act (love) but she acts upon them in the most selfish manipulative way.

Of the many costume dramas to have come out over the past 20 plus years, I definitely think that this film ranks among the best.